Thursday 8 June 2017

“The hand, the head, and the heart”: Ruskin, Morris, and Craftsmanship Today

SYMPOSIUM - June 3rd

This one-day event was jointly hosted by The Guild of St. George and the William Morris Society of Canada. The symposium focused on the influence of John Ruskin and William Morris on craftsmanship, both in their own time and on those who continue to honour that legacy in their work today.

The symposium was a great celebration of Ruskin, Morris, and craft!

The first presentation was by David Latham, who connected the Noble Grotesque to Pre-Raphaelite art, as symbols thrown together in bold and fearless connection, explaining that the designer and maker must then be same individual. The Pre-Raphaelites were a rejection of academic art, and looked to the idealized Medieval communal makers. In Canada, a colonial response to folkloric traditions can be traced in the works of JEH MacDonald and Homer Watson, who borrowed the nostalgic aestheticism of the Arts and Crafts movement. It is in the work of Elaine Waisglass that the Arts and Crafts tradition may be found, in the juxtaposition between the timeless use of light and the immortal sense of her medium.

The next presentation was by Sara Atwood, who spoke of the affinity between hand-craft and word-craft. “Writers are Makers as well”, as words must be chosen, shaped, and are the tools of writers. Needlework can also be allied to writing, in the choice and fine detail evoked by words, creating meaning through word choice. Through the lens of John Ruskin, Atwood asserts that the art of writing must be felt, and can be learned; there is a pleasure and practice in its craftsmanship.

Artist Kateri Ewing spoke about her personal journey into art through reading John Ruskin, and the importance of sight. It is through seeing and careful observation that the artist can perceive the world and find beauty. And it is the experience of making that is more important than the finished product.

In her presentation, Rachel Dickinson discussed notions of the ‘handmade’, and the marketing and branding reproductions that permeate the market today. Her focus on textiles and our experience of them, as we make/wear, choose our clothing, how we decorate our homes, etc. The ecology of the Arts and Crafts movement is at odds with Industrialization, and this is still a struggle we see today. The art of peace, through John Ruskin, is in spinning and weaving; to demonstrate grace and beauty within, we adorn ourselves and our homes with handmade and handcrafted items. We must support ethically made products.

The final presentation of the day was by Ann Gagné, who focused on maker culture and spaces in Toronto. She spoke of the tension between technological tools and creative ingenuity, and the resurgence of re-purposing in maker culture today. In part due to the dissatisfaction with the poor quality of items available, the surge of makers and their craftsmanship a drive for a new generation of makers. Gagné also mentioned the ‘re-purposing’ of historic Toronto buildings, and the need to keep to the adage of Morris and Ruskin “to protect not perfect,” away from the “façade-ism” of Toronto’s architectural choices.

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